The Ghost Writer (2010) dir. by Roman Polanski
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan and Olivia Williams
By Blair Stewart
Topical and skillfully made, Roman Polanski's "The Ghost Writer" will likely be dealt the same stiff box-office opposition that "State of Play" and "Body of Lies" faced from a public enraptured with blue aborginal space-cats instead of Afganistan and Homeland Security. Regardless, the latest from the Polish master takes the post-9/11 political climate and uses the tools for a display of his ingrained caustic wit and understanding of filmic suspense.
A nameless scribe (Ewan McGregor) is hustled into a lucrative book deal to ghost-write the memoirs of recently deposed British Prime Minister Alan Lang (Pierce Brosnan, well cast with his smarmy ageing charm as a stand-in for Tony Blair). Lang's book has been on hold since his previous ghost writer became a literal one under iffy circumstances along the shores of Lang's property on Martha's Island. Brought into Lang's inner circle as a shitstorm erupts around the ex-PM's condoning of illegal rendition while in office, the Ghost Writer picks up the threads left by his deceased predecessor. He'll also find himself uncomfortably close to Lang's discarded wife played by Olivia Williams, who has had a great comeback year with her supporting role in "An Education".
One of the adult thrills is seeing McGregor and Williams strike sparks off of each other with fine banter. Another joy is watching Polanski and Robert Harris adapting from his own novel take your standard hokum thriller and wring moments of brilliance out of it, where the tension of a note being passed at a party would make Clouzot's phantom happy.
Much of the action unfolds inside the Lang compound, a post-modern cement bunker that the protagonists of "Repulsion", "The Tenant" and "Rosemary's Baby" would feel a kinship with.
I had deep reservation going into the film; any work featuring the questionable supporting cast of Jim Belushi, Kim Cattrall and Timothy Hutton will do that to me. And yet I've forgotten an old rule that I've bludgeoned film-geek friends with in the past: A great director can make lesser actors look good, and in that regard Belushi, Catrall and Hutton are well cast.
Unfortunately problems still cropped up in my first viewing. The film has the distracting air-brushed sheen of a movie that's passed through the D.I. suite too many times in post, and it also suffers from a lag in the middle when the pacing should be picking up towards the climax.
Despite these faults that kept "The Ghost Writer" from joining "Chinatown" and "The Pianist" on Polanski's top-shelf work, well-made adult suspense is still cause for celebration. Enjoy.